Tourism & Cruises

‘Hero to the hospitality industry’ Stuart Newman — a public relations giant — dies at 96

Stuart Newman poses at the World War II Memorial in 2018 in Washington, D.C., during Honor Flight South Florida.
Stuart Newman poses at the World War II Memorial in 2018 in Washington, D.C., during Honor Flight South Florida.

For South Florida public relations guru Stuart Newman, actions always spoke louder than words.

In 1957, when attendance at the Miami Beach Travel and Sports show was lagging, Newman coordinated a Miami Herald newsroom visit for Rosie, a bear who was performing at the show. Attendance climbed after a photo of Rosie at a typewriter ran in the paper the next day.

When the U.S. border patrol set up a checkpoint blocking traffic in and out of Key West in 1982, Newman helped engineer the city council’s response. The Southernmost town declared itself “the Conch Republic” and sarcastically seceded from the U.S. The roadblock disappeared shortly after.

Newman died Sunday after a month of ill health. He was just weeks shy of his 97th birthday.

Newman moved to South Florida with his family in 1925, when he was three years old. His communications career began when his high school football coach asked him to take notes on practice sessions for the Fort Lauderdale Daily News (now the Sun Sentinel). He continued to work for the Daily News as a columnist while he attended the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Before graduation, Newman enlisted in the Army and eventually flew 35 combat missions in B-17 bombers during World War II as a navigator in Europe.

During a January 1945 mission, two of his plane’s engines were shot out and he and his colleagues survived a crash landing on a Belgian farm where British troops came to their rescue. On a mission one month later, one of the plane’s engines was shot out. When Newman and his team made it back safely, he wrote in a small, leather-bound notebook, “What a hairy way to earn a living.”

When he left the Army in 1945, Newman learned that Miami Beach’s Ritz Plaza hotel was looking for a public relations agency. Newman and his fraternity brothers quickly launched an agency on Lincoln Road in January 1946, signing up the Ritz Plaza as their first client. When the the Fontainebleau and Eden Roc hotels opened in the mid-1950s, they signed on with Stuart Newman & Associates as well.

In the 1980s, the firm added the Florida Keys tourism development agency and Carnival Cruise Line. Both are still clients of the firm now located in Coconut Grove and known as NewmanPR. Newman remained actively involved with the firm until a few weeks ago.

Prior to its association with Newman, the Florida Keys were little known to tourists.

“He saw something in the destination all those years ago that no one else did,” said Stacey Mitchell, head of the Keys Tourist Development Council. “Stuart is a hero to the hospitality industry and the tourism based economy we enjoy today.”

Throughout his career, Newman never forgot his Gator roots. He often returned to the University of Florida college of journalism, where he funded a scholarship for students over the last 30 years. Since 2008, 10 students have received scholarships of $1,000-$2,000 per academic year.

“He wanted to be sure that students had the same opportunities that he did,” said Diane McFarlin, dean of the school where a conference room is named after Newman. “He was regularly in conversations with me about the college, what was happening here, what we needed.”

Newman was also an enthusiastic member of the Society of American Travel Writers, where he mentored younger members and encouraged them to get involved in leadership roles. He canceled attendance at its recent Barbados convention only after an injury.

In 1948, Newman married Edith Koenig of New Jersey. They had two children. Andy, now senior vice president at NewmanPR, and Cathy, a former editor-at-large at National Geographic. Following Edith’s death in 1992, Newman married Sandy Sharp. The pair, married for 25 years, split their time between Miami Beach and West Virginia.

In October, Newman flew from Fort Lauderdale to Washington, D.C., on an Honor Flight with other WWII veterans. His children joined him for the visit. Many at the event called him a hero, but he insisted that the real heroes were his fellow servicemen who didn’t come back from the war.

Still, Newman loved to tell war stories and loved to see good coverage of his clients, his son said.

“We say public relations is about what others say about you and not what you say about yourself,” said Andy Newman. ”For him it was always the others.”

Newman is survived by his wife Sandy Sharp; children Cathy Newman and Andy Newman; grandsons Jeb Fain, Alan Newman and Michael Newman; and sister Nancy Simons.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to Newman’s scholarship fund for public relations students at the University of Florida (UF Foundation, P.O. Box 14425, Gainesville, Fl. 32604) or to the Florida Keys Soldier Ride (Military Affairs Committee, P.O. Box 2519, Key West, FL 33045). Please note “Stuart Newman Memorial” in the memo area.